VERO BEACH, Fla. – A day after a White House spokeswoman said Florida has only distributed about half of the vaccines that have been provided by the federal government, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the insinuation that Florida is underutilizing its supply is “totally disingenuous.”
It was the latest in a back-and-forth between DeSantis, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, and members of the new administration of President Joe Biden.
Last week DeSantis was critical of the Biden vaccine distribution plan, calling it a mistake to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Guard to distribute vaccines. DeSantis said the state already has the infrastructure set up, with hospitals, pharmacies and some of the major drive-thru testing sites.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about DeSantis’s comments Monday.
“And I will note, because we’re data-first here, facts-first here, they’ve only distributed about 50% of the vaccines that they have been given in Florida, so clearly they have a good deal of the vaccine,” Psaki said. “That supply will need to continue to increase as they are able to effectively reach people across the state, but part of the challenge, as we were just talking about, is not just having the supply — that’s pivotal — but also having vaccinators and having vaccine distribution places and doing it in a way that’s reaching people where they are and meeting local communities.”
During a press conference Tuesday morning, DeSantis said many of the unused doses in the state are second doses reserved for seniors.
“Florida is averaging more than 300,000 first doses per week but we are not going to divert away from our seniors,” DeSantis said. “We are committed to ensuring our seniors are the priority and get their second dose, and if the White House is suggesting that we shouldn’t be doing that, I don’t think that’s a good suggestion.”
With COVID-19 surging and vaccinations off to a slow start, President Biden said earlier this month that he planned to rapidly release most available vaccine doses to protect more people, a reversal of Trump administration policies. The new administration has said it plans to rely on manufacturers to deliver enough for second doses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks federally distributed vaccine data, Florida has received over 3.1 million doses and administered more than 1.6 million doses, as of Tuesday. Just over 159,000 Florida residents have received two or more doses, according to the CDC.
DeSantis said the number of unused doses will go down as more and more people start to get their second shots. He also said there is a lag in vaccine reporting time, meaning more vaccines have been administered than the data currently reflects.
But the vaccine is still in high demand, and DeSantis has maintained that the state will be able to vaccinate more seniors 65 years old and older, as well as other groups like teachers and law enforcement, if there was more supply.
“That is really the number one thing that we can get help from the federal government on because we’re at the mercy of whatever is sent,” DeSantis said. “So if they send 500,000 first doses instead of 266,000, I can double the drive-through sites, I can get more to hospitals, I can expand.”
At a press conference in Jacksonville on Monday, DeSantis said the vaccine supply from the federal government has hovered around 266,000 for weeks and has not increased.
The Miami Herald reported that a White House official denied that Psaki’s remarks were a targeted attack on DeSantis, and added that the administration will work to build bipartisan partnerships with governors as it works on a national vaccination plan.